Those who missed the memorial gathering for Downwind Dave Kruglinski at the University of Washington Arboretum on April 23 may appreciate some of what we learned about him.
Like any good legend, the story of how Dave got his nickname has several variations. Here's how I remember it. In November, 1991 several of us new Class 1 pilots were flying at Umtanum Creek in Washington's Yakima Canyon. Umtanum is a small site, maybe 700 feet high, and that day we had only enough time to launch, check out the State Patrol car in the parking lot, choose our approach pattern and land. Dave was the last pilot to fly. As he circled overhead, instructor Mike Eberle, who'd flown with Dave before, gave us a heads-up: "Watch you guys. Dave's gonna land downwind."
Sure enough, Dave lined up his final glide upwind of us, zoomed in, somersaulted into the tumbleweeds and nearly skewered his glider on the wind stick. He brushed himself off with a smile. For the rest of the day we gave him grief about it, and the nickname "Downwind Dave" stuck. To our surprise Dave liked his nickname and soon was introducing himself with it and using it as his paragliding pen name.
Dave's nickname, his self-effacing manner, and his slightly clumsy gait made it easy to underestimate him. He seemed like a friendly bumbler. Little did any of us know that his limp was the result of a climbing injury sustained years earlier in Nepal. Dave had traveled widely, had climbed 22,000 foot Huascaran Sur in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru and many other peaks and had a hidden store of self-confidence and drive. There was more to Dave than met the eye.
My first inkling of Dave's inner drive came in July 1992 when several of us flew at Golden B.C. for the first time. We were free flying at the Canadian National Paragliding Championships and several of the top U.S. pilots including John Bouchard, Todd Bibler, Dave Karl and Mark Shipman had arrived to challenge the Canadian favorites Chris Muller and Peter MacLaren. The first competition day was a "Golden Day," clear with light winds, perfect for cross country.
Flying together for moral support, Mark Dale and I quit after only 12 km. We had flown 30 km the day before, our personal best, and were too rattled by this new experience of big air and big mountains to push any farther. Later that evening, tales of great flights trickled into camp. Five or six pilots had flown over 100 km, the most impressive day of paragliding in North America to that date.
Most amazing to me was that Downwind Dave had flown 90 km to Radium on his first cross country flight. The level of commitment required to do this was outside my comprehension as a first-year pilot. I had assumed that Dave's skills and comfort zone were similar to my own. Clearly I had misjudged him. It was a mistake that pilots much better than me would repeat in future competitions.
Dave's mountaineering background attracted him to paragliding in the wilderness Cascade Mountains. Mount Defiance, Granite Mountain, Thorp Mountain, Paddy Go Easy Pass, Mount Persis, Green Mountain, Sourdough Mountain, Hidden Lake Peak, Cutthroat Peak meadows, Liberty Bell basin, Goat Mountain, Driveway Butte, Big Craggy, Chopaka Mountain, Mount Baker and Church Mountain are a few of the flights that Dave made, many of them firsts. I remember him showing pictures of a flight from Mount Snoqualmie where he launched, thermalled thousands of feet above the summit and went site-seeing over the adjacent peaks--all alone.
Dave's friends worried about his solo mountain flights, but he seemed able to take care of himself. Despite a series of misadventures and minor injuries that enhanced his unique reputation, Dave always bounced back with undiminished enthusiasm. He reminded me of something I once read about the Buddhist monks of Tibet, who face the unpredictability of life with courage and light-heartedness. It is said that when Tibetans face danger, when they are about to cross a dodgy avalanche slope or a swollen river, they shout, "Everyone alive today will be dead in a hundred years, so why be afraid?" Dave was like that, but without shouting.
In the other part of his life, Dave was a successful technology writer and consultant. He was the author of Inside Visual C++ published by Microsoft Press. This book is used by software developers around the world who write applications for Microsoft Windows. If you use a Windows computer, there's a good chance that the author of your favorite application read Dave's book.
In the acknowledgments section of Inside Visual C++, Dave thanked the many editors, software developers, teachers and students who had helped him prepare his book. With six hundred pages of detailed technical information, writing it must have been an enormous task. Dave's hidden drive undoubtably came into play here. Tucked away at the end of the section was one special acknowledgment: "Finally my fellow members of the Northwest Paragliding Club provided me with ample opportunity to get my mind off the project."
Downwind Dave Kruglinski died while paragliding in Washington's Methow Valley on April 17, 1997. He was forty-nine years old.